Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama sees jail for blasphemy as possibility

Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama speaking to reporters in 2012.
Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama speaking to reporters in 2012.ST FILE PHOTO

He has readied family in case he is convicted of blasphemy, but still enjoys mass support

Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama said he has prepared his family for the possibility of his imprisonment if the authorities find him guilty of blasphemy.

"I thank God that I have a good family," he told Tempo news on Saturday, adding that his family understands that his position as governor comes with certain risks.

Those were his first comments since Friday, when more than 100,000 Muslims took to the streets of Jakarta to demand that he be sacked and prosecuted for allegedly insulting Islam.

The brouhaha started in September after a video clip of Mr Basuki, better known as Ahok, was posted online.

In the video, he is heard telling a group of constituents during a community event not to be misled by his opponents who were urging Muslims against choosing a non-Muslim as a leader by referring to a verse in the Quran.

Mr Basuki has since apologised for his remarks but a police investigation is now ongoing after an outcry from some Muslim leaders as well as the hardline Islamic Defenders Front, which led the mass march on Friday.

In a move to defuse tensions, the police have been ordered to expedite the probe and deliver its findings in two weeks.

Mr Basuki is expected to meet detectives today for further questioning as part of the investigations.

The Chinese-Christian politician had been widely expected to be re-elected as Jakarta governor after pushing through urban renewal projects, resolving the city's major flooding issues as well as cleaning up the city and clamping down on vice.

He and running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat are backed by the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party - Struggle (PDI-P) as well as a strong coalition of political parties, including Golkar, Indonesia's second largest party after the PDI-P.

Mr Basuki and Mr Djarot are up against the Gerindra Party pair of former education minister Anies Baswedan and businessman Sandiaga Uno, and former military officer Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono - son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - and veteran bureaucrat Sylviana Murni.

Despite the heat Mr Basuki has received in recent weeks from Muslim hardliners, he remains hugely popular. The coalition led by the PDI-P has also closed ranks behind Mr Basuki after the protests to fend off calls for him to be sacked.

Others like Professor Ikrar Nusa Bhakti, a veteran political observer from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, was quoted in a Jakarta Globe report yesterday saying that heavy-handed protests against Mr Basuki on religious grounds are only likely to help grow support for him. Indeed, more than half of 100 eligible voters in the Jakarta election polled by The Straits Times said they plan to vote for Mr Basuki despite the protest.

Engineer Wesley, who is 36, said Mr Basuki deserves a second term to realise his development plans for the city. "If he's replaced in the next period, most likely the new governor will not complete his work."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2016, with the headline 'Jakarta governor sees jail as possibility'. Print Edition | Subscribe